Saturday, October 24, 2009

Guest Star

While the massive July 1054 supernova which produced the Crab Nebula was visible throughout the world (one could see it in the daytime for three weeks), it made little impression on the written records left by observers in the Eastern Hemisphere, apart from an entry by an astronomer in Song China. However, according to Timothy Pauketat's new book on Cahokia (pp. 20-21), Native North Americans left ample non-written records of the event in this hemisphere. Indians in Missouri and New Mexico represented the supernova in pottery, petroglyphs, and rock paintings, sometimes placing it near a crescent moon or an image of a rabbit (which some identified with the moon). The Chaco Canyon culture, also known as the Anasazi, identified the supernova in a painted star map and may have built of their largest underground temples, or kivas, in its honor. Pauketat believes the founders of Cahokia may have begun constructing their ambitious new city shortly after - and in consequence of - the supernova. If true, Cahokia would be the largest "record" of the astronomical event this side of the Crab Nebula.

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